Bahai News -- Los Angles Daily News - Examining safety, religion Article Published: Monday, June 02, 2003 - 10:36:49 PM PST

Examining safety, religion

By Dana Bartholomew
Staff Writer


ENCINO -- In response to recent arson attacks against local churches and synagogues, community leaders and experts on terrorism advised Monday how to guard against hate crimes.

The Making Your Community and Religious Institutions Safe forum, hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, focused on public safety in the realm of community worship.

"As important as it is to respond and react to acts of hate, the one thing that every man and woman and child in the San Fernando Valley can be assured of ... is that we are remarkably strong, remarkably cohesive when it comes to hate crimes," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "Total vigilance on this issue is critical."

The forum was held at First Presbyterian Church, site of an April fire officials said was sparked by arson that inflicted $20,000 damage to the sanctuary.

Subsequent attacks on religious institutions in Encino damaged the Bahai Community Center, Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, an Iranian Jewish synagogue and the home of a rabbi from the Da'at Torah Educational Center.

Farshid Haji Ezra Tehrani, 40, a Jewish Iranian immigrant, has ,leaded not guilty to a dozen felony charges, including arson and terrorism, related to the blazes.

To safeguard places of worship, Los Angeles City Council member Jack Weiss advised defenses that include:

• Talking with police about church security and reaching out to fire officials to make sure buildings are safer against arson.

• Communicate with groups such as the ADL, who have handbooks available on institutional safety.

• Form better bonds with other faiths, and request elected officials spend more on law enforcement.

"The real key," Los Angeles Fire Chief William R. Bamattre told the group, "is you -- you are our eyes and ears."

Monday's panel also included fire Assistant Chief Greg West of the San Fernando Valley, and police Cmdr. Mark Leap, assistant commanding officer of the Counterterrorism Bureau.

Despite the recent attacks, officials asked Angelenos not to panic.

"We have no intelligence that would lead us to believe there are plots to carry out suicide bombings, either here or in the United States," Leap said.

The forum also featured Judge Bruce J. Einhorn, ADL regional board president, and Colonel Yoni Fighel of the International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism in Israel, who said public awareness, precise public information and training were vital to combating terrorism.

Among an audience of more than 50 community members was Ed Lipkin, 75, of Reseda, security chairman for Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills.

"All of us religious institutions are concerned about the nuts," he said, prior to the forum. "We can find out how to better prepare ourselves and protect our houses of worship."

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Dana Bartholomew can be reached at (818) 713-3730 and dana.bartholomew@dailynews.com .

©Copyright 2003, Los Angles Daily News (CA, USA)

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